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Pietism (pīˈətĭzəm), a movement in the Lutheran Church (see Lutheranism), most influential between the latter part of the 17th cent. and the middle of the 18th. It was an effort to stir the church out of a settled attitude in which dogma and intellectual religion seemed to be supplanting the precepts of the Bible and religion of the heart. Although the movement bore resemblance to aspects of Puritanism, e.g., use of distinctive dress and the renunciation of worldly pleasures, the essential aim of the true Pietist was to place the spirit of Christian living above the letter of doctrine.
The first great leader was Philipp Jakob Spener, who began (1670) to hold devotional meetings. His Collegia Pietatis were designed to bring Christians into helpful fellowship and increase Bible study. Spener's book, Pia desideria (1675), emphasized the need of earnest Bible study and the belief that the lay members of the church should have part in the spiritual control. Although Spener did not intend separation from the church, his repudiation of the importance of doctrine and his desire to limit church membership to those who had experienced personal regeneration tended to undermine orthodoxy, and Pietism was severely attacked.
After Spener's death the work was carried on by August Hermann Francke, but after his time Pietism declined. Its effect was strongest in N and central Germany, but reached into Switzerland, Scandinavia, and other parts of Europe. A number of foreign missions were begun. Through Count Zinzendorf the Moravian Church was influenced by it. Pietism earned a lasting place in the European intellectual tradition through its influence on such figures as Kant, Schleiermacher, and Kierkegaard.
See D. H. Shantz, An Introduction to German Pietism (2013).
a mystical trend in Protestantism, especially Lutheranism, in the late 17th and 18th centuries, which considered religious feelings more important than religious dogma. Pietism appeared as a reaction against the formalism and dry rationalism of orthodox 17th-century Lutheranism and as a revival of the ideas of primitive Lutheranism. It was also directed against the rationalist philosophy of the Enlightenment.
The founder of Pietism was the Frankfurt theologian P. J. Spener, who began to preach in the 1670’s. The University of Halle, opened in 1694, became the center of Pietism as represented by A. H. Francke. Rejecting church ritualism, the Pietists called for a deepening of faith, attributed special importance to the inner emotional experiences of the believer and to prayer that is conducive to religious feeling, and urged moral self-improvement. Emphasizing the practice of Christian moral principles, the Pietists declared that it was sinful to participate in any entertainment—theater, dances, or games—or to read nonreligious literature.
The reactionary and hypocritical nature of Pietism manifested itself particularly in the 18th century, when the monarchical Junker circles of Prussia embraced it. Pietism was relatively democratic in nature in Württemberg, particularly in the teachings of G. Arnold. It exerted an influence on romanticism. Pietism experienced a resurgence in certain areas in the 19th century. In its broader sense, pietism refers to mystical religious sentiment and conduct.